Friday, December 28, 2018

Back to Havana - Tour Day 6

December 28, 2018
Havana, Cuba

Tour Day 6 – Touring Trinidad, a day of driving, and a final night out in Havana

Trinidad, Cuba
Now that we've been in Trinidad for two nights, we finally are actually going to tour the city today. The morning started by checking out of our rooms, loading onto the bus, and heading outside of the touristy town center to a more residential-feeling section to visit a "centuries old" family-run pottery studio.

The studio seemed to be a factory for turning out identical decorative vases and ash trays by the dozen to sell to tourists who are taken to see the studio by their tour guide. A couple of young guys were at work out back at their potters' wheels, making lots of small, squat grooved cups. We were then introduced to the maestro, who seemed to be the proprietor and is a master potter after 70 years of experience. He gave us a brief demonstration of how the wheel works, churning out four perfect pieces similar to those found on nearby shelves in about two or three minutes. Then it was time to ask for a volunteer to give it a whirl. 

As usual, no one wanted to do it, so I got to be the guinea pig, once again. He handed over his dirty, clay-spattered Nestle Nescafe apron for me to don (how appropriate), and I proceeded to show the group how talented the maestro really was by struggling to keep my clay on the wheel. It was fun though, and laughs were had at my expense. A win-win.

Time to head back to the Plaza Mayor, where Linett killed time talking a bit about Trinidad's history and architecture while we waited for our next tourist 'appointment' to open. Like much of her information, her talk had the feel of repeating things she heard once, and partly remembered, and repeats a bit differently each time - but without any fact-checking going on. I might call this style history improv. 

We then made our way to a Santeria house temple, where I believe someone who might be called a priest gave us a five-minute overview of Santeria, in a very low-key, unenthused voice. He described the origins, symbolic meanings, and tie-ins with various saints, which is essentially subbing in Jesus, Mary, and the Catholic saints for the old African Yoruba gods. He also went on to defend the practice of sacrifice, citing various examples of sacrifice in the Bible. Since he did not speak English, all of this was explained by Linett as she translated. 

As with all 'local guides', we were encouraged to give a tip, which is typically suggested at around $5 to $10 per person. Considering the number of tourists that run through some of these various local guides each week, we assume they must be some of the wealthiest people in Cuba. If your average Cuban makes only about $3 per day, tips from even a small group like ours must feel like quite a windfall.

Afterward, we had an hour or two before our lunch reservation where we were free to roam the streets by ourselves. We started, quite naturally, with a visit to La Canchanchara, a bar that serves pretty much only canchancharas. What's a canchanchara, you ask? It's a regional cocktail from Trinidad made from aguardiente (a sugarcane based liquor that was a precursor to rum), lime, and honey, served in the adorable terra cotta cups we saw for sale by the shelf-load at this morning's pottery stop. Served chilled, they're kind of tasty and refreshing. The bar itself is open air, in a sort of courtyard that is set up with comfortable(ish) outdoor furniture and umbrellas, and was a pleasant place to sit around and have a pre-lunch drink with a bunch of other tourists. We met a trio of German tourists who insisted on sitting very close to us, despite the lack of crowds. The young man in the group was actually American, but living in Germany, and probably visiting illegally on his American passport. Caroline envied his footloose and fancy-free, non-tour-group status. A band played all of the Cuban tourist classics - most notably Despacito, but also some Lionel Ritchie, which was oddly entertaining.

Lubed up with canchancharas, we popped into a hat shop and bought a pair of matching hats. I know what you're thinking, didn't you already buy a tote bag in Cuba? Yes, we've gone shopping mad. In fact, we then went on a search for a Tabac shop, where they sell cigars and rum. I was not interested in spending any more money on cigars after the great Day One Cigar Debacle, but was looking forward to bring home a bottle of Havana Club 7 year. It didn't take us long to find a shop, purchase our rum, and meet the group for lunch only a few minutes behind schedule. Linett is a stickler for promptness, but we think she liked that we were wearing Cuban hats and so let it slide. Lunch was very typical Cuban cuisine set in a lovely historic home off of the Plaza Mayor.

Toured out by noon, it was time to pile onto the bus for the 5-6 hour drive back to Havana, essentially driving right from our lunch restaurant to our dinner restaurant. It was a tired group, and a pretty quiet ride back.

It seemed that our dinner reservation was going to be tight, so we were given 15 minutes to check into our hotel, freshen up, and meet back at the bus to head to dinner. This time we were staying at the Hotel Capri, a sister property of the Hotel Victoria a couple blocks away where we stayed our first four nights in Havana. While the lobby was quite modern, both the exterior and the rooms were totally 60's. Each of our rooms was two levels, with an open staircase leading from the lounge floor up to the second-level bedroom/bathroom. The red carpet, long, heavy drapes, and gold-painted banister gave it a 60's or 70's Vegas feel.

Dinner was at another cool, old home-turned-restaurant, called Atelier. Not cool in temperature, mind you - the ladies in our group were praying for a breeze - but historic-feeling only with funky artistic decor. Once again it was a family-style meal of ropa vieja, chicken, beans & rice. Why change things up now? The assorted appetizers, also served family-style, were both interesting and enjoyable, and to Linett's delight, dessert was another warm brownie with vanilla ice cream. I'm pretty sure that's why she takes groups there. 

We were heading out after dinner while everyone else headed back to the hotel, so this would be the last time we'd see the ladies on our tour, as they had an earlier flight the next morning. We had all exchanged information on the bus earlier in the day on the drive back to Havana, but I feel it's unlikely anyone will stay in touch.

Our plan for the night was to head to La Fabrica de Arte Cubano, an arts/music/bar space set in a large abandoned cooking oil factory (i.e. una fabrica) compound. As we typically do before any trip, we tuned into old Anthony Bourdain episodes to get some ideas on places to eat and things to see - also how we ended up at Los Amigos for Christmas dinner. Tony's segment at La Fabrica was a little confusing, but very intriguing, so we had spent the week trying to figure out when we'd get an unscheduled evening to check it out. If not tonight, it was never going to happen. And luckily for us, it wasn't too far from the restaurant. Linett was excited for us that we were going there, saying it is THE place to go in Havana, for both Cubans and foreigners.

We waited in a long but fast-moving line to get in, which did seem to be a mix of Cubans and tourists, but definitely leaned more toward the tourist crowd. As soon as you get in, you get your drinks punch card, which limits the number of drinks anyone can legally imbibe for the night. With gin & tonic (Caroline) and beer (Scott) in hand, we set off to explore the somewhat maze-like building. The majority of the space was a top-notch modern art gallery, with places here and there to buy drinks, which officially makes it the best modern art gallery we've ever been to. 

There definitely seemed to be free expression in the gallery, which included political messages, nudity, and a transgender exhibit. Woven into the fabric (hardy-har-har) of the place, there are some performance spaces where bands or DJs were setting up. Additionally there are outdoor areas between buildings filled with people hanging out, where you'd think you were at a cool outdoor bar instead of a gallery. We wandered through the whole compound - at least where we were allowed, as there are some places roped off for artists/friends-of-artists only. 

It's such a cool concept, it was a definite Cuba highlight and a can't miss if you're ever in Havana. We found it sad that no one else in our tour group had any interest in checking it out. When Caroline asked her, Linett did say that on some of her tours a visit to La Fabrica is worked into the schedule, but sadly not on our tour. There was frequently talk of what people watched on television the previous evening. People had time to read multiple novels and watch many movies, but couldn't drag themselves out for the evening to hear music or visit La Fabrica. Oh well; their loss I guess.

A great way to spend our final night in Cuba, we feel like we're going out on a high note.

Scott tries his hand at pottery, with instruction form the maestro

Potters at work
Finished pieces for sale in the shop attached to the studio
On the Plaza Mayor in Trinidad
At the Santeria temple in Trinidad. This was the view into the interior from our rustic, bench seats as we listened to the presentation.  Caroline was much more interested in what went on in there than in the dry, translated explanation of how Santeria works.
The front room of the Santeria temple in Trinidad

Time for a tourist cocktail!
Doing the tourist thing at La Canchanchara, where we discover why the pottery shop was churning out so many of those cute little terra cotta cups!
Trinidad street scene
Trinidad street scene
Hat shopping. We got a matching pair for about $10usd.  One of the best deals in all of Cuba!

Our lunch restaurant was quite historically elegant
His and hers hats at lunch
Ropa vieja, it's what's for lunch. Of course.
Scott waits on the sunny side of the street with Linett (beneath the umbrella) for the bus to pick us up. Everyone else was waiting across the street in the shade. 
Viva Fidel
Scott boards our sweet ride for the week, ready for the long ride back to Havana
Sitting area on our floor at the Capri Hotel back in Havana
Looking up the stairs to the second level of our funky room at the Capri
The appetizers at dinner, served family-style, were a little more inventive tonight.  Caroline loved the smoked salmon wrapped in eggplant (at one-o-clock on the plate)
The family-style entrees were more typical but with the addition of tiny shrimp this evening
Using the restroom after dinner at the restaurant, we discovered this artwork, asking diners to not throw the toilet paper in the toilet but rather in the waste basket
And some scenes from the Fabrica de Arte Cubano:

Fabrica de Arte Cubano

I probably shouldn't have been leaning against the artwork like that but no one really seemed to care...
Dance club space at the FAC

This pair of prints was part of an installation of "then and now" portraits showing young Cuban girls at their Quinceanera (at 15 years of age) and again about five to fifteen years later, illustrating significant transformations

I guess naked people do look shockingly similar to pigs!
Intrigued gallery patrons visiting from America! ;-)

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